We’ve looked at the Printz process, and ruminated on the idea of literary excellence. Now it’s time to look at some of the more practical details: how do you find books to read? How do you get all that reading done? How do you remember the books you’ve read?
If you’re awesomely organized, you are keeping track of starred reviews, reading book blogs widely, and otherwise paying attention to YA publishing. You might even have a list of books to look out for that helps you create your TBR pile. Publishers very generously send books to committee members, too, which can allow your TBR pile to be a physical pile of actual books. Of course, then you have the added task of, you know, keeping track of the amazing amounts of books that you are sent in a year (and those boxes of books can stack up to a terrifying height, believe me! This is, of course, a nice problem to have). During my year, our own amazing Sophie was the Administrative Assistant (we were suuuuuuuuper lucky), and she created a spreadsheet that was a masterful thing to behold: it kept track of nominations, books the committee had received, titles the committee discussed, and some helpful links and resources for finding titles. I still dream about that spreasheet; it was very comforting.
So: spreadsheets are your friend. I actually really like keeping my own spreadsheet with every nomination entered so that I can keep track of the books I’ve received and the books that I’ve read. Instead of thinking to myself “I have 45 more titles to read by June,” I could tell myself, “I’ve already read 67% of our nominations!” (I have found that life on a book committee can really be helped by these little things.)
Committee discussion via email plays a major role in helping you shift your TBR pile around. Even before you’ve met to discuss nominated titles for the year, you’re part of an email conversation covering books people have read, books people are looking for, and books that the committee thinks everyone needs to read stat. The committee conversation can really help with the delicate balancing act that is reading for RealCommittee. You have to find some way to read widely among un-nominated titles while reading things that fellow committee members have already nominated while also rereading the items that need more attention. In this way, personal baggage can actually help the committee churn through a lot of the year’s books — there are always the fantasy fans on the committee, for example, who are finding the titles that rise to the top. Same for historical fiction — well, for any genre. Having those eight other people around to help winnow down that reading load is essential — and the email conversation is a major factor in shaping your TBR pile, keeping everyone on track, and keeping committee members accountable for their reading.
As has been said numerous times, the Printz process is largely a matter of narrowing down. You read a lot — a lot. You discuss with committee members (that’s where your good librarian listening skills come into play) virtually and in person. And then you go back and you read some more. Part of that reading is actually rereading; you reread with your fellow committee members’ thoughts in your head, and you do your best to reread from a neutral place.
It’s really in the rereading that the year takes shape. After a single read, nine committee members can fairly peaceably determine the top 30 books of the year. But as you start winnowing that stack down to the top 20, and then the top 10, and then the top 5, things become increasingly…contentious. Rereads are essential to that process; rereads are the place where you can get out of your own way and try to objectively appreciate and understand the strengths of the book.
And then you need to remember what you’ve read, which is where all your notes come into play. Notes on paper; typed up notes; important passages marked with post its; ARCs highlighted and scribbled in. Notes help you reread with purpose, and can be just the ticket at the table when you need a powerful argument.
You’ve all been taking notes on the books you’ve been reading this year, right? So you can easily and efficiently refer back to them this fall when we discuss titles?
…Wait, you haven’t been taking notes all year? Well, I hope you have a great memory!